The first day of November should sprout delicious memories from the past of warm biscuits, roast turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, a green vegetable, cranberries, spiced crabapples in a jar, and pumpkin and mince pies topped with whipped cream. Instead, I’m returning again to life as a youngster when ghosts, witches and goblins spooked every minute of Halloween night running door to door. Elsewhere youth shouted “trick-or-treat” while the chant used where I grew up on the East Side of town, was “soap-or-grub.” As a child, it was the only one I knew, but as an adult, I’ve often wondered about that phrase’s place of origin.

Well, thanks to an October gathering sponsored by Madison’s Historic Preservation Plan, two hours were spent at the Italian Workmen’s Club where five former Greenbush neighborhood residents were filmed and recorded while sharing their own memories of growing up there, one being Sam Moss. As a member of the Moskowsky family whose Milwaukee Bakery thrived in Greenbush, Moss casually mentioned Halloween and “soapergrubbing,” which immediately made me wonder if a lifetime mystery for me was about to be solved.

Thoughts raced through my mind. If soap-or-grub was a Halloween chant used in Greenbush where my Sicilian immigrant father and Tony Caruso once lived, both who settled on Talmadge Street to raise their own families, perhaps soap or grub got its start in the old Greenbush that, unfortunately, no longer exists.

If you chanted soap-or-grub when you were growing up elsewhere in Madison, let me know. Maybe the mystery of how it began is about to be solved.

The next Historic Preservation Plan gathering to share neighborhood memories will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center, 1625 Northport Drive.

A reader had recently requested a recipe for a sauerkraut and potato soup made with Jewish rye bread. There weren’t any responses and I went searching my cookbooks for possibilities.

Then Mike Repas — a longtime contributor to this column and excellent cook — called. He pointed me to a recipe of his featured in a January 2016 Cooks’ Exchange column that I think fulfills the reader’s request nicely.

Super sauerkraut and potato soup

5 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed



32-ounce bag of sauerkraut, drained, juice saved

1 large onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced, or 1 rounded teaspoon of granulated garlic

1 tablespoon caraway seed

1 teaspoon dill weed

1 cup low-fat sour cream

3 tablespoons flour

Dark or Jewish rye bread, warmed, optional

Put potatoes into a large Dutch oven and cover with water by about 1 ½-inches and add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover, cooking until potatoes are fork-tender.

Add sauerkraut and about a tablespoon of the saved juice; add onion, garlic, caraway seed and dill weed. Mix well and bring to a slow boil. Discard leftover juice. See Note.

While mixture boils, put the sour cream in a small bowl and slowly add the flour one tablespoon at a time, mixing to a smooth paste. Add about a cup of the potato/sauerkraut mixture, Blend well and add this mixture to the potatoes and sauerkraut in the Dutch oven.

Heat thoroughly but do not allow final mixture to boil. Serve in large bowls with warmed dark or Jewish rye bread. Generously serves 8-10.

Note: At this point of preparation, you can add smoked sausage or kielbasa (Stone Ridge brand would be a recommended choice) sliced into circular pieces halved or quartered, or generous chunks of smoked ham and about 8 ounces of chopped portabella mushrooms (stems and gills removed).

The intense flavor of portabellas adds another exciting level of flavor to this soup.

Repas claims the soup keeps getting better and better by refrigerating and reheating. If reheating, be careful not to allow the mixture to boil.

Back in July, a letter arrived from Valeria Feller, Verona, who sent a sauerkraut and potato soup recipe clipped from a newspaper that seemed to be short on directions. Here is a recipe from “Great German-American Feasts,” by Nancy Gailor Cortner and Jane Garmey, published in 1987, perfect for the chilly days ahead.

Sauerkraut soup

16-ounce can sauerkraut

¼ pound salt pork

1 tablespoon butter

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

4 cups strong chicken broth

2 cups water

½ teaspoon marjoram

½ teaspoon thyme

2 carrots

4 potatoes

Pour sauerkraut into a sieve and rinse it well. Set it in the sink to drain. Cut salt pork into cubes. In a heavy saucepan brown the salt pork. Drain off the fat and in the same saucepan, melt the butter. Add onion and saute until translucent. Add chicken broth, water, and herbs and bring broth to a boil. Peel carrots and potatoes, cut them into chunks, and add to the soup. Add rinsed sauerkraut to the soup and simmer until vegetables are tender. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

When November arrives and the mere mention of cranberries brings thoughts of the holidays, consider make cranberry-oatmeal cookies as a special recipe shared by Sarah Leah Chase of Nantucket fame and her “Cold Weather” cookbook published in 1990.

Cranberry-oatmeal cookies

1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter

1 ¾ cups (packed) light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 ½ tablespoons honey

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

18-ounce box old-fashioned rolled oats

12 ounces fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped

½ cup golden raisins

Finely chopped zest of 1 orange

1 ¼ cups coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl until smooth. Add eggs, honey, vanilla, and salt and beat until smooth and creamy. Using a large wooden spoon or your hands, work in the flour and oats until well combined. Add cranberries, raisins, orange zest and walnuts; mix until evenly incorporated. With your hands, form dough on the baking sheets into patties ½-inch thick and 2 ½ to 3 inches in diameter. Bake the cookies until lightly browned, but still a little soft at the center, 15-20 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Makes about 25 cookies.

With Thanksgiving in the near future, here’s another keeper from Chase’s “Nantucket Open House Cookbook.”

Pumpkin biscuits

2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 ½ tablespoons brown sugar

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small bits

15-ounce can unsweetened pumpkin puree

2 teaspoons grated orange zest

2 tablespoons heavy or whipping cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter baking sheets.

Sift flour, baking powder, salt, and brown sugar into a mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles very coarse meal. Stir in pumpkin and orange zest to make a soft dough. With floured hands and working on a well-floured surface, pat biscuit dough 1/2 inch thick. Cut out using a floured decorative 2-inch cuter. Place biscuits on the prepared baking sheets. Gather the scraps of dough, pat out ½-inch thick, and cut out as many biscuits as possible. Using a pastry brush, brush tops of the biscuits lightly with cream. Bake just until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Makes about 36 biscuits.

Recent requests: Favorite Thanksgiving recipes to share.

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email at